(appeared on America Magazine)
The Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., is scheduled to be completely demolished by Dec. 14, the first anniversary of the massacre that took place within its walls. A place where such unspeakable violence occurred and so much suffering was inflicted is being removed from view because it is too heartbreaking to look at.
One year later, the people of Newtown and the families who lost loved ones at Sandy Hook are trying to move on. But the nation should not raze Sandy Hook from its conscience. We have not earned that mercy.
Sandy Hook should not have happened. Those 20 children and six teachers and administrators should not have died. They died because a disturbed young man got his hands on some dangerous weapons and because inaction and indifference helped put them within his reach. After a series of mass shooting events in recent years, no one should have been surprised by Sandy Hook, just as no one should be surprised by the 16 mass shooting incidents (shootings with at least four dead victims) that have followed Sandy Hook this year. And, sad to say, no one should be surprised by the next Sandy Hook. Newtown’s first and second graders became new statistics in U.S. gun violence because U.S. politicians consistently refuse to legislate common sense gun control measures, and U.S. voters let them get away with it.
If the murder of 20 schoolchildren is not enough, it is indeed hard to imagine what degree of carnage might finally challenge America’s gun idolatry. As in past shooting events, after the initial national gasp of despair, Second Amendment absolutists simply waited out public outrage in well-founded confidence that the Sandy Hook threat to gun rights would eventually dissipate. It has.
What has changed since Sandy Hook? The nation’s school districts have been busy attempting to shore up security, allocating $5 billion this year, not on new learning technologies or textbooks, but on such oddities as bulletproof whiteboards and new barricade and intruder-alert systems. Some have even trained and armed teachers and staff, and campus invasion safety drills have become commonplace.
The National Rifle Association had a good year, breaking records in fund-raising, and, in a small nod to simple decency, a coalition of gun-rights groups agreed to change the date for their proposed celebration of gun ownership, “Guns Save Lives Day,” from the Dec. 14 anniversary to the day after.
In April, modest gun control legislation that would have expanded background checks for gun buyers failed to make it through the U.S. Senate. Some state legislatures, notably in gun-traumatized Connecticut and Colorado, managed to put new limits on gun ownership, and advocates for gun control have been able to turn back legislation in other states that would have expanded gun rights. It is a painful irony, however, that in the aftermath of Sandy Hook, gun-rights supporters have also had notable successes in broadening gun ownership and the ability to carry concealed weapons. Federal gun law nullification measures that make it a crime for federal agents to enforce U.S. gun laws passed in Missouri and Kansas.
A couple of months after Sandy Hook, this publication advocated a constitutional change to put an end to the interminable debate about the meaning of “well regulated” in the Bill of Rights (“Repeal the Second Amendment,” Editorial, 2/25). Our current appeal is simply to common sense. As the victims of gun violence pile up—about 90 die each day—a minority of Americans hold the nation hostage to an absolutist interpretation of the Second Amendment. Who but a handful of citizens wish to live in the current gun dystopia? Some continue to insist, against all empirical evidence, that the answer to gun violence is to put even more guns in circulation. Such ideology over evidence cannot be allowed to dictate public policy.
A recent survey by Johns Hopkins University confirms that 89 percent of Americans support universal background checks and that significant majorities support bans on assault weapons and the high-capacity magazines that serve them. Why does such legislation time and again stall in Congress?
David Wheeler lost his 6-year-old son, Ben, in the terror that consumed Sandy Hook. As an advocate for common sense gun regulation, he has learned since that day “how completely disconnected our legislative system seems to be from the opinions of the American people.” In an interview on ABC’s “Good Morning America,” he explained that he remains determined, nonetheless, to someday bring Congress to its senses.
“I will do whatever it takes,” Mr. Wheeler said, “to keep another father from having to go down this road of loss and despair and grief.” It is time for those in the majority who have remained silent on this issue to join him in that commitment.